SOS Children's Villages is the world's largest orphan charity, and is dedicated to providing family life for the world's most vulnerable - children orphaned by war, poverty and natural disasters. Currently, the charity is the home to over 60,000 children in 123 countries, and assists millions of impoverished families worldwide.
In 2005, SOS Children's Villages UK began exploring different educational projects that would benefit children both in the UK and abroad. It was during these conversations that Wikipedia Selection for Schools was born. The goal was to create an offline Wikipedia version that was child safe, free from vandalism, and could be easily used by individuals with no internet connection. Additionally, the staff also wanted to customize the content so that it would complement the UK curriculum, which they knew was used by schools worldwide.
"The decision to use Wikipedia was easy. There is no other project that can compete with the overall range and quality of individual contributions. Wikipedia is not just the biggest and the best, there isn't really any competitor worth mentioning in the same sentence," states SOS Children CEO and Wikipedian, Andrew Cates.
To prepare the content, Cates' team devised technical solutions, and took advantage of the numerous volunteers their Cambridge, UK location offered them.
"We took all the "featured" and "good" articles and removed esoterical or material not suitable for children. The community at Wikipedia suggested other articles, which we looked at. There weren't good articles in all subjects we wanted, such as some novels in the English literature curriculum," stated Cates.
By 2006, SOS Children's Villages UK had released their first version, and in 2007, the second followed. The releases were available both online and via CD/DVD. Not surprisingly, the Wikipedia Selection for Schools was received well across the globe, so much so that organizations, such as the Shuttleworth Foundation, began distributing it in South Africa.
"In regards to the CD, most people have responded enthusiastically. They state what a fantastic idea it is. I've been asked for copies from all around the world...Many thousands of people visit the online Schools Wikipedia everyday and we have had thousands of downloads and have handed out hundreds of the disks. We are happy that the work involved was for a good end and is being used," states Cates.
Besides the SOS Children's Villages that are distributing the Wikipedia version in Southern Africa, Pakistan, and the UK, other entities have begun to set up their own download sites as well, such as the State government in Victoria Australia.
As a Wikipedian enthusiast, Cates believes strongly in the potential of Wikipedia and the positive impact is has had on the world. In regards to children, he believes Wikipedia is great at helping children become scholarly in regards to knowledge sources.
"As a Wikipedia editor the thing that I think is underrated is the amount of international understanding which Wikipedia has developed. I see a stream of people from fundamentalist groups, for example, who start off adamant and opinionated but from gentle interaction with other editors, learn about reliability, NPOV, and learn other perspectives on history and the Middle East for example. It is heart warming and educational to see people of all different backgrounds end up working together to complete a project," states Cates.
Currently, SOS Children has plans for future Wikipedia Selection for Schools releases. Cates stresses that now the organization has software and procedures to generate DVDs very easily. This leaves the room to explore many possibilities, including future releases in other languages.
"This year we've been passing copies all over the world. Who know what we will be doing next?," states Cates.